Goblet of Fire's sprawling messiness is fascinating to me. It seems to mark the moment when J.K. Rowling gained full power over her creation. She wasn...moreGoblet of Fire's sprawling messiness is fascinating to me. It seems to mark the moment when J.K. Rowling gained full power over her creation. She wasn't a struggling, driven, single mom anymore -- she was J.K. ROWLING! She was a literary superstar, and suddenly she could do anything she wanted without hindrance.
The result is a giant mess. She's got a Quidditch World Cup happening; she's got the crazy Triwizard Tournament, and all its machinations; she's got Harry's hormones starting to rage; she's got a jumble of adult politics and the old and new wars against Voldemort competing with Harry for time; she's got the endless Rita Skeeter vs. Hermione subplot; then she's got the Hermione - Dobby - Winky - SPEW debate; she's got the first appearance of the Pensieve, and its onslaught of explication; she's got not-Mad Eye Moody to introduce, the first serious appearance of Voldemort, another ghostly visitation, Padfoot hanging around in caves, Fred & George scheming their brains out, and Dumbledore being his usual forthcoming self; she's got Tournament challenges and school to deliver; she's got humiliating dances for us to attend; she's got the death of Cedric Diggory; and she's got all her usual suspects -- Snape, McGonagall, Neville, Hagrid, the Malfoys, etc., etc.. It's a lot of ground to cover. I think it is too much, and I am sure that if she hadn't been an institution, she'd have been forced to cut and trim.
But I am damn glad she wasn't forced to cut and trim. Sure Goblet of Fire could have been tighter. Sure it could have been a slicker story, more compelling, faster in the telling. But fuck all that. Life is messy. Shit is always going on around you. Just look around tomorrow and you'll see it happening. And all of those diversions, all of that messiness, is a reflection of the way life is.
More importantly, though, I just love the fact that an author -- ANY AUTHOR -- reached that stage with her writing, reached the point where it was so beloved she could tell the story her way without any interference. Most authors only get to do that if they stay in the ghettoes of self-publishing, but Rowling moved into the gated suburbs and painted her house all the colours of the rainbow, and she was so fucking rich and powerful that the community council just let her do her thing. That is authorial victory, and that makes Goblet of Fire a personal fave.
Besides, it's kinda fun despite its flaws. And it is the first time I really fell for Hermione. She's one of the great supporting characters in all of literature. Seriously. She's up there with Dr. Watson (but better).(less)
The following checklist will tell you all you need to know about Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban's suitability for you. The more checkmarks you have, the more you need to tackle this wonder of modern literature.
1. Do you have Daddy issues? ✓ or ✘ 2. Has a creepy middle aged man been sleeping with you for years, unbeknownst to you? ✓ or ✘ 3. Does the full moon make you anxious? ✓ or ✘ 4. Have you ever gorged on chocolate to combat depression? ✓ or ✘ 5. Do you find there just isn't enough time in the day? ✓ or ✘ 6. Are you misunderstood? ✓ or ✘ 7. Do you have an overactive sense of justice that gets you into trouble? ✓ or ✘ 8. Do you break rules whenever you can? ✓ or ✘ 9. Do you scoff at personal danger, especially when it gets in the way of your fun? ✓ or ✘ 10. Are you a dog lover, or would you like to be one? ✓ or ✘
1-2: You'd probably rather be reading Finnegan's Wake, The Book of Mormon or Sally Dick and Jane 3-5: Skip it and watch the movie. 6-8: Time to dust off that copy and give it a whirl. 9-10: Put your existential crisis aside. Shave your moustache. Take a day off work, and read this book. It won't change your life, but it'll be like reading about your dream self.
Finished reading it to the kids tonight. I'll have to write about it tomorrow.
later ... It's been almost two decades since I last read The Hobbit,and...moreFinished reading it to the kids tonight. I'll have to write about it tomorrow.
later ... It's been almost two decades since I last read The Hobbit,and the intervening years have not been kind to our relationship. I've reread The Lord of the Rings in that time, and been both dazzled and repulsed by Peter Jackson's screen interpretation of them. I revised my intellectual response to Tolkien, if not my feelings, because of the racism inherent in the Trilogy, then I revised it again because of the sexism.
But the Hobbit comes out in the theatres this year, and my kids are HUGE fans of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman -- Sherlock and Watson on the BBC's Holmes update -- and since they just happen to be playing Smaug and Bilbo Baggins, respectively, I thought it was about time I revisited Middle Earth with my kids, setting aside my Tolkien grievances to awake some non-Potter magic in their hearts.
It was the single best reading aloud experience I've ever had, and I've read many, many books with Të and Loš in their seven years. They loved it like nothing else I've read. Miloš actually wept when Thorin died (which took me completely by surprise). Brontë adored Fili & Kili, and has drawn some spectacular pictures of Smaug. Even Scoutie toddled her way into the readings once in a while, wanting to be part of the energy and excitement.
Reading the Hobbit aloud was nothing like what I had expected. I expected the read to be a slog. I was thinking of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings prose, that heavily descriptive, pseudo-archaic language that delivers so much weight to the War of the Rings, and I thought it would be impossible to keep my kids interested (though I had to try). Boy, was I wrong.
I remembered that Bilbo was the slightly-veiled narrator, but I assumed he would sound like Tolkien. I always remembered it that way, but it wasn't and he didn't. The narrative and the narration didn't just sound like Bilbo Baggins, it was Bilbo Baggins, with Bilbo often intruding quite literally on the telling (hiding his identity, of course, as any good ring bearer would). It was a conversation between Bilbo and my kids, and I was able to become Bilbo and tell the tale as our little Hobbit rather than as a dad reading to his kids in the winter of their seventh year.
Something marvellous occurred to me during my reading, something I'd missed each time I'd read the book in the past -- and it's the true genius of Tolkien's writing. I have always marvelled at his world building, his linguistic gymnastics, his deep, believable, overwhelming mythologies (even when other issues have frustrated me). I have been blown away by the fierce creativity of Tolkien's mind. But I suddenly realized what a subtle writer he truly was. The Hobbit, you see, is a lie. It is a white lie, perhaps -- an hyperbolous exaggeration by a bit player turning himself into the star -- but it is a lie from beginning to end, and Tolkien wants us to find the lie (and to do that we must be well versed in the Lord of the Rings -- so J.R.R. was busy forcing some deep intertexuality, amongst other brilliant things) and love Mr. Baggins all the more for the lie.
In Lord of the Rings we see an extended and objective vision of four hobbits, each heroic in their own way, each impressive, each foolish and/or weak, each capable of making decisions and driving events, but they are merely part of a much larger whole. They are members of a party of beings who can and do the same things as they. Aragorn is a king in the making; Gandalf the White, née Grey, is the catalyst of action; Boromir is noble and tortured and tragically heroic; Legolas and Gimli and Eomer and Eowyn and Treebeard and Gollum and Faramir and others all have roles to play, all are capable, all are important. But in the Hobbit -- with the exception of Gandalf once in a while -- Bilbo Baggins, or so he tells us, is the only one capable of anything great, and everyone else's great moments, if they have them, depend on him.
He is like no other Hobbit who ever lived. He's also completely full of shit, which makes me love him even more. There's probably a sliver of truth in everything our furry footed unreliable narrator tells us, but whatever that sliver is really doesn't matter because The Hobbit isn't about the truth, it's about the weaving of a tale, and this is the one time that J.R.R. Tolkien achieves that weaving perfectly. The Hobbit is mesmerizing for those who read it and those who have it read to them.
I wonder what the movie will do with Bilbo's attercoppy web of deceit. Will Jackson play it straight, and retell the tale in the same way he told Lord of the Rings (I can't imagine a bigger mistake)? Will it be dour and serious, and will Bilbo's lies be taken as truth? Will the movie be the book, lies and all? Will Jackson somehow tip us off to Bilbo's bullshit? Or will he dig deep into the tale and tell us the Hobbit that really was but never made it onto the page? Will all the events be there, but will the Dwarves be more capable? Will Thorin be more impressive? Will Bard and Beorn and Gandalf be more than deus ex machinas? Will Smaug be more frightening, and will his demise be more his own responsibility and less Bilbo's? Whatever the case, I think Jackson will have a much harder time delivering a satisfying Hobbit, though I bet it will be more loved than his first three.
It doesn't matter what the movie(s) do(es), though. What matters is that for those who take the time to read this with their loved ones, who read to their children or
for those who really embrace the telling, The Hobbit will always remain one of the most rewarding literary experiences you can have.
I love this book more now that I ever have before. I hope, with fingers crossed, that a year or two from now, Miloš or Brontë or Scoutie will bring me our tattered old copy of the Hobbit and ask me to read it again. Or, maybe someday, when I am old and dying, one of them will come by the home I am wasting away in and read it to me. That is about the most beautiful way to die I can imagine. And it will be comfortable and cozy in a way that Bilbo would approve.
*stolen with love and respect from Ceridwen's fantastic review. Go see it for yourself.(less)
After all the talk about Pullman's supposed anti-Catholicism or anti-Christianity or atheism or whatever one wants to label it, I approached The Golde...moreAfter all the talk about Pullman's supposed anti-Catholicism or anti-Christianity or atheism or whatever one wants to label it, I approached The Golden Compass (known originally as Northern Lights) with an open mind and found something other than what I'd been told to expect.
I found elements that questioned Christianity and Catholicism and the nature of God and its works, but I also found elements that questioned parental authority, the ethical and practical roles of Science, and the nature of good and evil. And it is this consistent questioning that I see as the message of Pullman's first book of "His Dark Materials" -- not any of those messages that were focused on during the movie's release.
The notion that we should question everything, even if we are children -- or especially if we are children -- is one of the most important messages humankind can hear, and one of the hardest for us to learn or employ. Most people simply do not want to question. It takes work; it takes struggle; it takes strength, and far more strength than unquestioning faith or simple acceptance require.
The fact that Lyra questions everything around her at all times is her salvation. And ours if we would only learn the lesson.
Say what you like about Pullman's story, but regardless of your religion or politics or economics or taste he does something brave that needs to be respected -- he challenges us to think about everything. Even his book (with its flaws...and there are a couple).
I understand that he can't maintain the amazing level of The Golden Compass, nee Northern Lights, in the books that follow, but I am compelled to read them to see for myself. I think Pullman would appreciate that.
I am so glad I came to Kay's The Fionavar Tapestry late because I doubt I ever would have read his great books if I had read these first.
I was acting...moreI am so glad I came to Kay's The Fionavar Tapestry late because I doubt I ever would have read his great books if I had read these first.
I was acting in a play with my great friend Jefferson when he suggested I read A Song For Arbonne. I was blown away. He told me to read Tigana. I loved Brandon and was in love with Kay. He told me to read The Lions of Al-Rassan, which I've read numerous times since, and I had found my favourite Kay. He told me to avoid the trilogy, though, because he knew I would hate it. I don't hate it, but it is the worst writing of Kay's career.
Overdetermined. One of my favourite words. And this trilogy, and The Summer Tree, is that. Paul is crucified on the Summer Tree and the number three plays an important role. How sneakily Christian of you Guy. Dave goes native. How sneakily Anglo-Native American of you Guy. Kimberly becomes a seer. How Earth Mother of you Guy. Bla, bla, bla.
Loren Silvercloak (Gandalf anyone?) and his bitch, Matt Sören,the obligatory little person, are there. We have our heroes, we have our villains, our shabby rulers, our lands in crisis, our crappy Fantasy tropes galore. And who cares?
I wanted to care. But I didn't. I couldn't. I'd already read Kay's good stuff -- maybe even his great stuff -- and going back to his freshman work was depressing. I wanted to love it. But I could barely like it.
The greatest strength of Tigana -- Guy Gavriel Kay's masterpiece -- is the "ambiguity" of his characters' ethics. Fantasy, as a genre, suffers from th...moreThe greatest strength of Tigana -- Guy Gavriel Kay's masterpiece -- is the "ambiguity" of his characters' ethics. Fantasy, as a genre, suffers from the widespread simplicity of its expressions of good and evil. Kay consistently transcends this genre weakness, and Tigana marks his first and greatest break with the good vs. evil tradition. Tigana is full of characters who struggle with their decisions and the impact those decisions have on others.
Alessan, the "hero" of the piece, enslaves a wizard to his cause and must wrestle with the deaths he is responsible for in the name of an ideal. Brandin, the "villain" of the piece, knows two loves greater than all the other loves in the novel combined, and those loves are inextricably linked with his equally powerful hate. And both of these characters are nearly impossible to dislike. They are not good men, nor are they bad men. They are just men, albeit men with power and powers that put them in positions where they can hurt masses of people. They are two of the greatest fantasy characters ever imagined, and the people they touch make a supporting cast of compelling depth.
Some have complained that Kay spends too much time with character and not enough with plot. This criticism speaks more to the feelings of readers than it does to a failing of the author. Kay intentionally chooses character as his focus because it is only in depth of character that he can explore ethical ambiguity. And ethical ambiguity is everything in Tigana.
The expansion of and focus on ethical ambiguity can save the fantasy genre. Kay is at the heart of that movement, and Tigana is his keynote address to the fantasy faithful. If you take your fantasy seriously, you must read Tigana. Just make sure you read it with an open mind, and let yourself feel compassion for all the people doing nasty things for reasons they believe are right.(less)
After loving the Sandman comics and getting a few good laughs out of Good Omens, I decided to finally give Neil Gaiman's prose (solo that is) a fair s...moreAfter loving the Sandman comics and getting a few good laughs out of Good Omens, I decided to finally give Neil Gaiman's prose (solo that is) a fair shake. It was 2003, and I knew that American Gods had recently won the Hugo, so I decided to make it my choice.
I vaguely remember enjoying the experience, but I distinctly remember thinking it was an orgy of ideas where none received the attention I craved or they deserved. The idea of the Old Gods doing battle with the New Gods across the United States was a good one, but I thought I'd seen it done with more subtlety -- albeit in a different form -- in Thomas King's Green Grass Running Water. I also remember liking Shadow, the Balder character, and since he was the protagonist, it went a long way to mitigating some of my disappointment.
A student of mine saw me reading American Gods in the hallway before class, and he recommended Perdido Street Station to me unreservedly. I bought it a week later, read the Prologue, became immediately skeptical and tossed it aside. Eight-ish years later, however, Perdido Street Station is one of my favourite books of all time, and I can't help but feel some affection for American Gods simply for the role it played in bringing me to Miéville and renewing my interest in speculative fiction.
I love Neil Gaiman's Sandman so much that I am desperate to love the rest of his work, but I can't do much more than like it because it's mostly only...moreI love Neil Gaiman's Sandman so much that I am desperate to love the rest of his work, but I can't do much more than like it because it's mostly only okay.
He deals with all the stuff I love -- mythology, the occult, death, dreams, the urban fantastic -- but he's too tongue-in-cheek. When I read one of his novels, I feel like I'm reading the Nick Hornby of fantasy. Too clever, too hip and too cool for his own good.
It's not that I don't like his prose work. I do. And I even love some of it (like Wolves in the Walls, if that counts, and Stardust), but when I get to what should be the meat of his oeuvre, American Gods and its sequel, i can't help feeling let down.
It's not that I don't like his characters. Mr. Nancy, Spider and Fat Charlie are pretty groovy; the book reads fast and is entertaining; I even dig the ending, but somehow none of that is enough. I want more from Neil. I want to be dazzled, and he teases me with bedazzlement constantly, but I've only been dazzled by Dreams -- nothing else has come close.
And maybe that's my problem right there: having found Gaiman through Sandman, everything that's followed pales in comparison. I am always looking for greatness, and all I get is pretty good.
So if you read this review, Neil, just know that I love you, and I will always read you, and I am constantly looking for that drug-like hit I had the first time I bought a Sandman comic (and yes I am that old) and was blown away by your storytelling. You are a victim of your own best work.
Since joining goodreads, I’ve been baffled by the Neil Gaiman love fest. American Gods, Neverwhere, Stardust, The Graveyard Book, they appear to be un...moreSince joining goodreads, I’ve been baffled by the Neil Gaiman love fest. American Gods, Neverwhere, Stardust, The Graveyard Book, they appear to be universally loved, and I’ve been skeptical of this emotion that borders on worship. These books are good and all, and I recognize their general accessibility, but I don’t personally find any of them mind blowing literature. Gaiman’s prose is no match for China Mieville’s or Iain M. Banks’ or Ursula LeGuin’s (and countless others who write speculative fiction), and the way he recasts mythology into contemporary settings is more clever than inspired. The love accorded Gaiman, therefore, feels disproportionate to the quality of his work – at least to me.
Lately, however, I’ve been reminded that I once loved Neil Gaiman, and that reminder was my return to The Sandman Preludes and Nocturnes. Like his other fine work, The Wolves in the Walls, The Sandman series plays to Gaiman’s greatest strength: his ability to conjure beautiful images from artists. But it also elevates many of the things that Gaiman is usually only able to do adequately. His writing, when confined by thought and dialogue bubbles, is inspired (mostly because its goal is to be natural and believable rather than aspiring to literary greatness); his contemporizing of mythology is much more palatable (happening, as it does, in a comic book universe predisposed to gods and heroes); and his naturally cinematic pacing works better in a graphic format. Yes, indeed...graphic novels are Neil Gaiman’s best form.
Sleep of the Just – This may be the greatest first issue of a comic ever written. The capture of Morpheus/Dream/Sandman (or whichever name of his you prefer), the sleeping sickness, his inevitable (and beautifully patient) escape and vengeance guarantees that any fan of fantasy or comic books or fantasy and comic books must continue with the series. Even better, though, Sleep of the Just could have been its own stand-alone issue, and that would have been good enough. There are few single issues of a comic that are so fulfilling. I buy it all, and everything I had to know was given to me. Luckily, Gaiman left me with plenty beyond what I wanted to know. My personal favourite: the introduction of Sandman’s helm. Killer.
Imperfect Hosts – A kick ass follow up episode that includes a taste of Sandman’s powers, the characters that populate his Dreamworld, and the beginning of his search for the three artefacts stolen when Burgess captured him instead of Death. This episode is most notable, however, for the way Gaiman weaves his Sandman into the existing universe of DC. I am not a DC fan. I read Batman and Superman because they are cultural requirements, and what I know of the DC Universe is filtered through the pages of those books, but Sandman was a rare piece that warped and wefted its way into the DC universe without letting itself get bogged down in DC’s usual shabbiness. Imperfect Hosts is where this all begins to happen.
Dream A Little Dream of Me – A weakened and vulnerable Morpheus is busy looking for his sandbag, the first of the three stolen artefacts that can restore him to his former splendour and power. So he tracks down John Constantine, the Hellblazer, who bought the sandbag years before and put it into storage, but the sandbag is gone, stolen by Constantine’s ex-lover, Rachel, a heroin addict who needed money for a fix. She never got it; instead, the sandbag took control of her mind, throwing her into a forever nightmare that included the transformation of her father into a room sized, living, breathing, tortured, mass of flesh. Dream a Little Dream of Me is a horror show that hints at the depths of nightmare Dream will combat in future issues, and it embeds Morpheus more deeply into the DC Universe. It’s a satisfying chapter in Morpheus’ rebirth, and this is where the patient build towards the story’s literary quality begins.
A Hope In Hell – This is the one issue that really doesn’t thrill me too much. Morpheus goes to Hell and meets up with Lucifer, Beelzebub and Azazel – Hell’s triumvirate of Dark Lords – demanding the return of his helm. He ends up dueling Choronzon for his helm in a "reality" battle. Each takes a turn in the shape or form or concept of something or other. Each incarnation is slightly tougher than the opponent’s until the victor’s incarnation can’t be beat. Morpheus defeats Choronzon as "hope," which totally sucks. Hope?! Please. I can see hope as a stage in the battle, perhaps, but as the ultimate incarnation of victory? No way. Hope can be good, but it’s also an emotion that can derail thought and action -- and that makes hope potentially bad and self-defeating. Still, Lucifer was cool and his parting words about Dream give us plenty to look forward to in the series to come: “One day, my brothers...One day I shall destroy him.”
Passengers – A creepy start to the search for Morpheus’ last artefact – the Ruby of Dreams. A decrepit Doctor Destiny is sufficiently mad when he escapes Arkham Asylum, Morpheus runs into J’onn and Scott Free from the JLI, and the Doctor Destiny corrupted Ruby throws Morpheus into a catatonic stupor on the floor of a storage garage in the middle of nowhere, all setting the stage for the most terrifying chapter of Volume One:
24 Hours – Bloody, nasty, marvelous. Dreams in the hand of a corrupted man become corruption, and the whole Earth suffers. This is the best issue of The Sandman in Preludes and Nocturnes, so I'll let it speak for itself. But be warned: this one is not for the faint hearted.
Sound and Fury – This is a satisfying resolution to Dream’s return to power. Sandman shows John Dee mercy, he bestows the Earth with a night of pleasant dreams, and he returns to his Dreamscape to rebuild his kingdom. It’s not quite as powerful as 24 Hours, but it does what it needs to do.
The Sound of Her Wings – Death is a beautiful thing. If there were no other reason to love Neil Gaiman, this realization would be enough because Death really is a beautiful thing -- both in the comic and at the end of our lives
I’m glad I revisited Gaiman's greatest moment. Maybe now I can enjoy his new stuff more and appreciate him as much as so many of my friends do.(less)
When I was in grade seven I had a Language Arts teacher named Mr. Hore (you can imagine the fun we had with that in junior high school). He noticed th...moreWhen I was in grade seven I had a Language Arts teacher named Mr. Hore (you can imagine the fun we had with that in junior high school). He noticed that I was a voracious reader, and that I was devouring fantasy books at the time, so he nudged me in the direction of his favourites: Ursula K LeGuin and Anne McCaffrey.
The nudging began in class with a LeGuin short story. I remember sterile white homes that were pre-fab pods, I remember odd, sci-fi-ish flora and a girl as the protagonist. I also remember not liking it, but I was a 12 year old boy. I don't remember the name or anything else, but it instantly had me not taking Mr. Hore's recommendations seriously.
Then he got me reading Dragonflight, and I was even less impressed Although I recently gave it another try and quite enjoyed the experience, back then I hated the idea, I hated the characters, I hated everything about the book, and I was thoroughly inoculated to the effects of McCaffrey and LeGuin for years to come.
In my late twenties, however, I rediscovered Ursula LeGuin with The Left Hand of Darkness and was blown away by her unparalleled mind, and her conception of the androgynous/hermaphroditic Gethens. The Lathe of Heaven was prophetic and fascinating, but The Dispossessed was something more. It is one of the finest political sci-fi books ever written, a peer of Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World (and I humbly submit that on the back of that book alone, LeGuin deserves to win the Nobel Prize for literature). Despite my rediscovery of LeGuin, though, I shied away from her fantasy literature. The damage done by Mr. Hore still hadn't healed.
A Wizard of Earthsea is one of the finest pieces of fantasy literature ever written. The story of Sparrowhawk's journey from being a smithy's son to the most powerful wizard of Earthsea is a parable of equilibrium. In Ged's pride and youthful anger he conjures the dead -- a power within his grasp, but a power he cannot control -- and with it comes a gebbeth, a shadow creature that will hunt Ged until it possesses him and turns his power against the world.
Heavily scarred by his folly, both emotionally and physically, Ged is shielded from the gebbeth by his Masters, and he completes his training in humility. He eventually returns to the world, leaving behind the protection of Roke, and seeks an end to the chase between himself and his gebbeth -- a return to equilibrium: "only in silence the word, only in dark the light, only in dying life: bright the hawk's flight on the empty sky."
In typical LeGuin fashion, Ged's struggle for equilibrium isn't our simplistic conception of a struggle between good and evil. There is no attempt for good to sublimate evil, as we see in so many works of fantasy. Nor is it a breezy assertion that both need to exist in the world; it is a recognition that if both exist at all they exist in everything, including us. The parable of Ged tells us not only to see equilibrium in everything but to consciously strive for equilibrium in ourselves.
A Wizard of Earthsea is more than its message, however. It is a story to be read aloud. It is a tale for around a campfire. It is a myth for the child in all of us, and for our children. There is a formality about LeGuin's third person omniscience that has the ring of a bard passing on an important history. But there is poetry in her formal prose, too, and I found myself slowing my reading the closer I came to the end just to make my time with LeGuin's narrative voice last longer.
I am sad to see that so many on goodreads don't feel the way I do about LeGuin's fantasy masterpiece, but for once I am confident that I don't need to search my reaction to the book more deeply, to make sure that I am seeing the work clearly. This time I know I am right. A Wizard of Earthsea is one of the greatest fantasy novels (or novellas) ever written. Period.
And now LeGuin has two claims to the Nobel Prize. What a shame she'll never even be considered. (less)
I love this story; I love the whole series and the follow up series, but I really can't stand Tanis Half-Elven, which is a bit strange since he is sor...moreI love this story; I love the whole series and the follow up series, but I really can't stand Tanis Half-Elven, which is a bit strange since he is sort of the default hero of the Chronicles, and certainly the main character in book one.
Dragons of Autumn Twilight opens with Tanis coming home to Solace after five years away in a fruitless search for evidence of the old gods. It doesn't take long for us to get our first dose of Tanis' incessant doubt and self-pity, which are the basis of my Tanis hate. But I must admit that find my disdain for Tanis a little confusing.
Usually I love conflicted characters. I love men and women who struggle with their own failings, find themselves in a constant state of moral dilemma, or are generally not as heroic as they or those around them may believe. Hence, I should love Tanis. He is all of these things.
But Tanis' behaviours go too far for me. His discomfort with leadership becomes unbearable when the group is so full of capable leaders. The adoration of his followers constantly confounds me (I just get so frustrated that Sturm and Caramon and Riverwind can follow him so blindly). His confusion over Kitiara and Laurana would be okay if he didn't feel so bloody guilty about it all the time. And he is a superstar of whining. Around here we'd call him "Old Whinyard" (and sing our "Old Whinyard" song to the tune of Moon River) and tell him to "suck it up."
Tanis is realistic. All of his personality traits and foibles have a breeze of truth to them. Which means that I don't have to like Tanis to appreciate him as a character, and I can actively loathe him and still love the books.
There are, after all, a number of characters that I fully love -- Raistlin (and all his complexity), Sturm Brightblade (and his perfectly satisfying sacrifice), Kitiara (and her many lusts), and Tas (although he loses his attractiveness come Dragonlance Legends); they trump my annoyance with Tanis. And, thank the gods, when we reach Dragons of Winter Night, I barely have to worry about Tanis because the focus of the Chronicles shifts to those characters I care more about.
Of the original Dragonlance trilogy, Dragons of Spring Dawning is not my favourite. Even so, it contains some excellent moments while serving as both...moreOf the original Dragonlance trilogy, Dragons of Spring Dawning is not my favourite. Even so, it contains some excellent moments while serving as both a pseudo ending to the War of the Lance and a fine introduction to the Legends series.
Perhaps it is Dragons of Spring Dawning's transitional position that makes it impossible for it to be the best of the three. There is a real sense in Dragons of Spring Dawning that we are not speeding towards a resolution of the War but a shift in hostilities from the vast and impersonal to the internal and personal. Which means that while the book is necessary in the greater arc of the series, it must fail to live up to the promise of its predecessors because it cannot, by its very nature, deliver a fitting end to all the threads of the story.
Dragons of Spring Dawning generates a feeling that Weis and Hickman reached a point where their huge cast of characters was too much to handle. Gilthanas and Silvara, Goldmoon and Riverwind, Alhana Starbreeze, Lord Ariakas, Astinus, Raistlin (although that is rectified by the Legend series), and even Fewmaster Toade get short shrift. Their stories could have been the basis for at least two more books in the series proper, which also would have allowed for a stronger telling of the stories that it does manage to tell.
Of course, many of these missing stories have been told by others in future installments of the Dragonlance universe, but one can't help wondering how much better these stories would have been if they'd been contextualized within the War itself and told by the originators of the series.
It was particularly nice to see Tanis Half-Elven through the eyes of my four year olds, whom I read the book to. I always hated Tanis. I found his whining insufferable; I always felt the "supposed" darkness of his soul was a bit of a joke; I thought his attack on Berem was too easily forgiven by his friends, and nothing in my latest oral reading of the book changed my mind on any of these points. But something did change for me, and I was finally able to see how Tanis' role as leader can gloss over his faults for an audience as easily as it seems to for his friends in the book. Tanis seems to have a genuine charisma. I don't get it personally, but now at least I recognize how it works.
The entire series is worth reading multiple times, and this is an important step along the way, but if you're anything like me don't expect to love this episode in the Dragonlance story. It is far from the best.(less)